K-théorie et ses fondations

Readers of th​is list​

​may be interested in the following slightly abridged  version  of remarks on the background and founding of the K-Theory Foundation. The remarks were delivered at the opening ceremony of the first conference to be sponsored by the Foundation. The conference was  titled ‘K-theory and related topics’ and took place in Beijing in August of this year as an ICM satellite conference.  At the conference, the Foundation awarded for the first time its prizes to the most deserving young mathematicians working in K-theory and  related fields  to Joseph Ayoub of the University of Zurich and Moritz Kerz of the University of Regensburg.




​Remarks on the background of the K-theory Foundation


Dear Colleagues,


Thank you for participating and contributing to this conference.




Special thanks go to the organizers of the conference Professor Guoping Tang and Professor Jianzhong Pan and the sponsors of the conference, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese National Science Foundation and the K-Theory Foundation, Inc. For the K-Theory Foundation, it is a special occasion. It is the first conference the Foundation is sponsoring and it is the first conference at which the Foundation will award prizes for outstanding work related to K-theory. The ceremony awarding the prizes will follow immediately after the first talk of this morning.




The funds which the Foundation is using to support the conference and to award the prizes were derived from sales of the Journal of K-Theory. There was a time, however, when there was no journal for the subject K-theory and not even a major listing for the subject in the American Mathematical Society’s Mathematical Subject Classification scheme. Let us go back in time, specifically to the year 1982, when this was the case and recall events which led to the creation 5 years later of a journal for K-theory, namely the journal ‘K-Theory’ and then 20 years after that the founding of the ‘Journal of K-Theory ‘ and finally 3 years after that the founding of the K-Theory Foundation. 1982 was a time when K-theory had established itself as a very fashionable topic and had played a major role in solving problems of great interest to mathematicians in various areas of mathematics. Many Fields Medalists of the preceding 20 years had contributed to or used K-theory in their work: Atiyah, Connes, Grothendieck, Milnor, Quillen and Serre. Still the vast majority of mathematicians remained skeptical that K-theory would be more than a passing vogue, a fashionable topic whose interest and application would dwindle, certainly by now.




In 1982, Grothendieck was 52 years old and the average age of a participant at a K-theory conference was between 30 and 40 years old. K-theory was a subject for young people. Against this background, I approached an academic publisher, Reidel, to ask if it might be interested in publishing a journal in a new, but rapidly growing subject of mathematics. I explained that K-theory was a new discipline of mathematics, embracing concepts, methodologies and problems central to many major disciplines of mathematics and that the aim of the proposed journal would be to further the cause of crosspollinization in mathematics by bringing together under one roof work having close conceptual and methodological relationships, work which had hitherto been scattered in the literature. (Further details regarding this are contained in the Editorial to the first issue of ‘K-Theory’.) Reidel’s response was cautious, but there was some optimism, which was supported by my close contact with one of its advisors. To make a long story short, let me simply say that it took 5 years before the first issue of ‘K-Theory’

appeared in 1987, the key development during this period of time being a genuine swing in attitude of the mathematical community towards K-theory, from a fashionable topic to a subject in its own right. Despite misgivings of some colleagues even in K-theory, the journal was an immediate success right from the beginning. In 1990 the journal ‘K-Theory’ played a role in the American Mathematical Society’s admitting K-theory as a major subject index in its Mathematical Subject Classification scheme and K-theory was the first subject the AMS spoke of as interdisciplinary within mathematics.




Many of you might have never heard of the publishing house Reidel, the first publisher of ‘K-Theory’. It was small, but fine. It does not exist anymore.

It was taken over in the late 1980’s by Kluwer Academic Publishers, also seated in the same city as Reidel, namely Dordrecht, Holland. Kluwer was considerably bigger than Reidel.   The commercial aspects of publishing a scientific journal were felt more strongly at Kluwer than at Reidel. This may be attributed to the size of the company. The size aspect was enhanced in 2003-04 when Springer Science & Business Media took over Kluwer. This was exacerbated by the fact that both Kluwer and Springer were migrating at that time from print to print-and-online. It was noticed by editors, authors and readers that the quality of the publication process and of the final product was declining considerably during this time, for example the quality of the typesetting and the timeliness of the appearance of issues of the journal were suffering. Many complaints were received from authors and this prompted in 2004 the idea among editors of the journal to begin looking for a new publisher. At the same time, prices for the journal were increasing systematically.  Some of you will recall that Rob Kirby had been voicing concern regarding high prices charged by commercial academic publishers and had gathered broad agreement among mathematicians on this issue.

Furthermore, the publisher began violating the copyright embedded in the contract with Reidel, which had not been changed for 20 years. Attempts to mutually resolve these problems with the publisher failed.  It was decided to at least resolve the copyright violation issue by filing a law suit against Springer, which was done in 2006. This made moving to a new publisher/distributor of the journal at a later date less problematic. The move to a new publisher happened a year later. To make once again a long story short, let me say that in 2007 a contract was negotiated with Cambridge University Press to bring out a successor to ‘K-Theory’ called the ‘Journal of K-Theory’.




Almost all the editors of the old journal were present on the Editorial Board of the new journal and a couple younger ones were added. However, a new era began with the Journal of K-Theory. The continual complaints the old journal had been receiving regarding shoddy typesetting and delayed issues disappeared overnight, being replaced although not as frequently as the former complaints, by emails of thanks and praise.




In the course of starting the new journal, it was conceived that the new journal should not only publish papers, but support in general the scientific community producing the papers it publishes and in particular use financial gains from publishing the journal for supporting K-theory activities. Accordingly, the K-Theory Foundation was set up in 2010 to carry out the philanthropic mission above. Its first Board of Trustees consisted in alphabetical order of Tony Bak (President), Max Karoubi, Tim Porter, Jonathan Rosenberg (Secretary) and Chuck Weibel (Treasurer). Through the Boards pioneering work, the Foundation received the basis of its current organization as a corporation and the formulation of operational rules for implementing the mission of the Foundation. The latter was accomplished last year by setting up 2 sets of rules, one for supporting conferences in K-theory and related subjects and the other for awarding prizes for outstanding work related to K-theory. This brings us to this moment in this room, to the opening ceremony of the first conference the Foundation is supporting and to the first awarding of the Foundation prizes. Let us extend our thanks and gratitude to the first Board of Trustees for bringing this about.



Some organizational parts of the K-Theory Foundation still have to be completed, but are on the way.




Finally, words of thanks go to the University of Bielefeld and the Faculty of Mathematics for their support for over 30 years of the projects above and to Cambridge University Press for its contribution as distributor of the Journal of K-Theory.


​​​Anthony Bak


President of the K-Theory Foundation, Inc.





Une réflexion au sujet de « K-théorie et ses fondations »

  1. Ping : Job Action at the Journal of K-theory | Not Even Wrong

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